Last Class Friday Afternoon

This really isn't so bad. He could have been trying to stab someone with them

I had to work to get over to help Keisha. So quiet, wearing her bright Tweety-as-a-rapper sweatshirt that must be two years out of date, she might as well have been in another universe as far as the rest of the class was concerned. I had my hands full that day, but I was determined not to forget to check up on her again. Some classes are "challenging; this class had me looking at the clock all to often. It was a class with too many students who were too interested in the latest developments in the social pecking order or simply too tired to care about art. Several, had taken the same class from me last year as eighth graders. It didn't help that it was the last class of the day or that today was Friday.
Not five minutes into the period I had a confrontation with Leena over her feet. From time to time I have to tell students to take their feet off the table. Among other things it's really hard to draw in that position. Leena, I noticed, not only had her feet on the table but her shoes were off as well.
"Leena, would you please get your feet off the table and put your shoes on!" I directed her in a firm tone. After she refused and started cursing at me I decided to send her to her administrator with the standard referral form. Upon receiving it from me she shouted out " Get your stink-breath outta my face!" and slammed the door.
Things seemed to settle down and I started making my way over to the table where Keisha sat. I had a chance to look briefly at her collage before the next storm started to blow up. My heart sank when I saw it. It looked like my example of what not to do. Before I could say anything someone's spiral ring notebook clipped my elbow and landed on the floor.
I look in the direction that it had come from and saw Melvin starring at me with a puzzled look.
"Melvin, there are better ways to get my attention."
"Whatchoo mean?" he said in indignation.
" You just better be glad your aim was off. If you'd hit Kelly here she'd probably crush you and I might not try to stop her."
'Mr. B I didn't-"
"Cut it out Melvin" I said. Kelly's laughter told me my hunch was right. " What should you be doing right now?"
" Makin' a picture of trees or something?" I started to explain the assignment again to him. . The hands of the clock seemed unusually slow. I hadn't gotten far when I heard louder than normal shouting from across the room and went to investigate. It was nothing more than an overly exuberant discussion of team sports. For the next fifteen minutes I keep hopping from table to table, prodding and helping. I remembered Keisha , looked back in her direction I and saw a truly remarkable sight.
The metallic glint from his face caught my eye. Melvin's usually smooth coffee colored face appeared to be pierced by at least half a dozen small rings: eyebrows, nose, lips. The question "Do I really want this class to work with paint for their next project?" suddenly occurred to me.
My initial bewilderment gave way to shock and anger when I looked down at the Melvin's table and saw the neat stack of paper that had been carefully extracted from what had once been the spiral wire that had held his notebook together. All around were other rings of metal and the scissors, one of my last good pair of scissors. Perhaps, in another context I would have congratulated him on his creativity, sense of humor and resourcefulness.
"Melvin!" I shouted. My angry questions couldn't deflate his cool innocent façade. As I listened to his explanations (" I just wanted to get the paper out without tearing it") I thought, "This really isn't so bad. He could have been trying to stab someone with them." The fact that Mr. Brown, his administrator, assured me that he would be leaving my class next week meant that detention or whatever other consequence I could think of was rather moot. Melvin was going back into the "Academy", the new program for incorrigible students that the school was trying this year.
I sighed. It was getting closer to the end of the period. I was just about to head of to the other side of the room where George and James were laughing way too gleefully when I looked over at Kiesha.

Not much had changed with her landscape since the last time I checked on her. A line of identical potato shaped clouds hovered above a flat horizon that separated the sky from the green ground. Only one brown tree trunk was positioned right on the horizon. It was everything I cautioned my students not to do. It was flat and without character.
"So, Kiesha, What do you think about your landscape?" I asked in an offhand way.
" I don't know. It looks kind of boring." she said looking down, her voice barely audible.
"How about some more trees of different sizes? Cut them and I'll show you how to arrange them to create the illusion of depth." As she furrowed her eyebrows I realized I sounded just like an art teacher
" I can't make those trees"
" Yes, you can. Who made this one?”
" You helped me. I can't do it by myself."
I want to tell her that she can, she just has to try again. At the same time, I was thinking, "What does she need to do this for?" I sighed yet again.
" You know, Kiesha, everybody's got something special about them, even if it doesn't show on the outside. You just have to find a way to let it come out in your work, in this landscape. Make it your own."
She looked at me like she doesn't understand." Look, I'd like you to make this look as realistic as you can but I also want you to be creative and put in some interesting details. OK?" I start moving toward George and James who are now out of their seats chest to chest glowering at one another.
"Hey guys, we don't have time for that now. Its time to clean up now, anyway," I say as I start to separate them. James is taking the cue but George is straining against my hand. "George, don't you have basketball practice to go to this afternoon?" Now, I was looking right at him. " I'm sure you'd rather go to practice than stay here for detention. Why don't you help round up the glue sticks and maybe we can all get out of here on time?" This seems to register with him and he dutifully heads off to my amazement. Thank God for after school sports.
I start giving the usual instructions to everyone quickly going from table to table. Students who took all period to get started now couldn't stop working. I stopped at Melvin's table. "Didn’t I tell you to get rid of all your metal scraps?"
"I did," he says gives me the same innocent expression. He was right, except for Kiesha, everyone seemed to have cleaned their space and stacked their work. Something on her collage was shining brightly as she bent over it ignoring my instruction. The bell rang and everyone else started scrambling for the door.
"Kiesha, aren't you going to be late?"
" I walk. I'm almost done anyway."
I looked at the collage. There in the upper left hand corner was the sun carefully outlined with Melvin's metal rings, complete with stylized rays. Down in the middle of the green ground there was an oval of blue with another sun made of the same metal pieces. There was still just the one tree stuck to the horizon above it. The picture still looked flat and met few of the objectives. "What do you think?"
" The metal pieces keep falling off," she says again in that hoarse whisper of a voice.
"If I'd known what you were gonna do I would of gotten you the Elmer's glue. But what do you think about the picture?"
" I like the way I made the sun. It's different. I'd like to add some flowers or something to it." She's almost smiling now.
" Its certainly not boring anymore, Huh? And I really like the way you used Melvin's wire pieces. That was very creative."
"Can I finish it?"
"Sure, I think the rest of the class needs at least one more day to finish."
" No, can I finish it now? I'm a walker."
" Let me get out the Elmer's.” Some days you just can't win, thank
goodness.

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